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Sealift key to Corps expedtionary legs...

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  • Sealift key to Corps expedtionary legs...

    Conway: Sealift key to Corps expeditionary legs

    By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
    Posted : Wednesday Nov 19, 2008 1926 EST

    SAN DIEGO — In his two years as commandant, Gen. James Conway has beat the drum for shifting Marine combat forces from Iraq to Afghanistan and reviving the Corps’ unique ability to conduct amphibious expeditionary missions.
    A quieted Anbar province eases the pressure on Marine commanders there, as top leaders prepare for more combat boots in Afghanistan. In Iraq, “things are looking better there than anybody would have ever believed at this point in time,” Conway told an audience at the San Diego Military Affairs Council meeting on Wednesday.
    As for Afghanistan, however, “we’re going to be in that fight for some time.”
    But the goals of returning more Marines to sea and seasoning them for beach assaults or other expeditionary missions, Conway noted, are running up against tight budgets and a shrinking fleet.
    “We need more, (that) is the bottom line,” Conway said. “We have a concern that you can only go so long, with regards to this forcible-entry capabilities. Beyond that, you don’t have a capability.
    “We are losing our expeditionary capability, and we’ve got to go on a diet,” he said.
    The Navy’s existing sealift can only deploy two brigades of Marines — two regiments of infantry “trigger-pullers,” along with supporting air and combat logistics.
    “If you’re only going to put two regiments of Marines across a nation’s shore, you could be in jeopardy,” Conway said.
    Conway noted the Corps’ top unfunded priority in the past two years “is a ship. It shouldn’t be that way.”
    Sufficient sealift is critical to ensure expeditionary forces that are “fast, austere and lethal” and able to deal with the “increasingly hybrid threat,” he said, but not be too heavily geared for counterinsurgency threats.
    “An amphibious operation of any sort is a race for time,” he added. “You’re racing to build up, while the other guy is racing to gather the forces to kick your butt back into the water. We think that we are at a minimum now of what we can reasonably call a ‘forcible-entry capability.’ ”
    The commandant also spoke on other issues:
    • Marine detachments. The new national maritime strategy, unveiled last year, envisions more shipboard detachments of Marines. But the future of such MarDets “is not good,” Conway said.
    Detachments likely won’t mirror the MarDet that Conway served with aboard the now-retired aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. Back then, the detachment was comprised of two officers, two staff noncommissioned officers and 66 enlisted men, and they ran the ship’s brig and guarded classified weaponry, including nukes.
    “We can’t afford that kind of structure without some conventional kinds of requirements on a routine basis,” Conway said.
    Instead, Marine officials have settled on the “quick-draw capability” of smaller, highly trained forces like a Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team, which can be deployed when needed.
    “We’ve economized,” he said.
    • Time at home. Conway still hopes to get Marines with deploying units to a 1-to-2 “deployment-to-dwell” ratio, which would give them 14 months at home in between 7-month deployments. A 1:2 ratio means “more time with their families and more time to train to do other types of things, instead of just preparing for contingencies,” he said.
    But in recent years, requirements for forces in Iraq haven’t left much wiggle room. The latest commitment of forces to Afghanistan only increases the stress, Conway said.
    “We can’t do both,” he told the audience. “We can’t have a foot in both camps. We’re just not big enough.
    “If you want more horses in Afghanistan, they must come from Iraq.”
    • Big exercises. Conway wants more Marines to experience amphibious, mountain or jungle warfare exercises and the thrill of large-scale live-fire training, such as the pounding combined-arms exercises that once were monthly events at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
    “That’s what we’re going to get back,” he said. “That’s what is going to give the Marines the confidence that they can survive any environment.”
    • Resetting the force. Combat rotations continue to age and wear out military vehicles and other equipment, “even as we attempt to reset,” he said. “The problem that we have is it’s a rolling stock.”
    Despite the struggle to keep everything repaired and running, he said the Corps will be “in relatively good shape.” He gives the service a “B to a B-plus” for the work so far.

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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